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Ex-Taxi Official Alleges Snyder Aided Illegal Gifts : Ethics inquiry: Former executive of firm accused of campaign violations says that the lobbyist was involved in scheme. Snyder denies any wrongdoing.

September 22, 1993|RICH CONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ousted president of a Los Angeles cab company accused of funneling illegal campaign contributions to local politicians has alleged in court papers that former Councilman Arthur K. Snyder and a legal associate were involved in the scheme.

Vadim Berenson, president of Bell Cab Co. until he was forced out of the company in July, said in papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court that Snyder and his law partner, Gilbert Archuletta, advised company officials to make improper political contributions. Berenson also alleged that the attorneys warned Bell Cab officials to keep quiet about the role that Snyder and Archuletta played in the contributions or they would risk losing their city franchise.

Berenson's allegations, strongly denied by Snyder, Archuletta and the new company president, arose in a bitterlawsuit in which the expelled Bell Cab president is accused of misappropriating $180,000 in cab company funds.

The staff of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has accused Bell Cab Co., a client of Snyder's lobbying and legal practice, of 56 counts of illegal contributions. The commission staff says the firm secretly reimbursed employees who made thousands of dollars in City Hall political donations--a violation of campaign contribution limits. The firm faces up to $280,000 in fines if the accusations are upheld by the Ethics Commission.

Berenson's allegations come amid a tangle of conflicting charges and countercharges between two groups battling for control of the 93-taxi firm, which operates in Central and West Los Angeles. His complaint marks the first time anyone has attempted to directly link Snyder to suspected political money laundering being investigated by the city Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Snyder and Archuletta have not been charged with wrongdoing and both deny any involvement in illegal contributions. They accused Berenson of fabricating the allegations to try to save his position with the cab company. "It's absolute baloney," Snyder said. "There's not a word of truth in the whole thing. . . . Somebody thinks it's a good idea to involve me in their suit with their cab company."

Felix Offor, current president of Bell Cab, also denied Berenson's allegations regarding Snyder and Archuletta, and said that Berenson was angry because he was removed from his position. Offor said that if improper contributions were made, they were a mistake by Bell Cab. He also said Berenson was involved in the theft of thousands of dollars worth of government-subsidized taxi ride coupons, some of them taken from company offices last week.

Berenson acknowledged that he went to the taxi office, saying he is still entitled to be there, but he denied taking anything or ever misusing company funds. He said Offor and others are "trying to smear my reputation." Berenson alleged that he was improperly forced out of the taxi operation by allies of Snyder and Archuletta after he refused to make additional improper political contributions or use company funds to "pay off" someone who was giving investigators evidence in the case, the court record shows. But Berenson's efforts to regain his office have been unsuccessful, and he was denied an emergency court order in July that would have reinstated him.

The investigation of alleged political money laundering at Bell Cab is one of a number of investigations being conducted by state and local authorities that center on Snyder and his law firm, records show. Last month, a large shipping firm, headed locally by Snyder's brother-in-law, agreed to pay an $895,000 penalty for money laundering, the largest such penalty in U.S. history. Snyder said he was not involved in any misconduct related to that case.

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